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June 10, 2014 / JayMan

Key Updates to Posts and Random Notes

I have recently updated two key posts, my post More Behavioral Genetic Facts and More Maps of the American Nations.

In More Behavioral Genetic Facts, I have expanded on an analysis on the meta-analysis of the heritability of criminality. This meta-analysis, a seminal work, represents the single best treatment of what we know of the genetic and environmental impact on criminality to date. Their all-inclusive analysis, combining children and adults, self-report, parent report, and criminal records together, seemed to produce a small shared environment estimate of 0.16. This dropped to 0.09 in adults. However, as the gist of the post illustrated, and as any veteran of behavioral genetics knows, methods matter. Studies on children often produce a transient effect of the shared environment. Self-report tends to be highly noisy. Parental report is often quite biased. As I noted there:

Rating method a2 d2 c2 e2 Total no. of pairs in category
Self-report 0.39 0.06 0.55 13,329
Other report (usually parents) 0.53 0.22 0.25 6,851
Criminal records 0.33 0.42 0.25 34,122

The total, or broad-sense heritability, H2 , is the sum of the additive (the narrow-sense heritability) and the non-additive genetic components. As we can see, when actual criminal records (a semi-objective metric) are used, as we’ve seen, the heritability shoots up to the usual range, at 0.75, and the shared environment estimate vanishes. The criminal record analysis also captures the largest number of subjects, bolstering its reliability.

(For the record, the countries spanned by the studies in the meta-analysis include the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Denmark, and Sweden.)

This (along with the other studies discussed there and previously) should end the argument on the effect of parents to influence the course of their children’s lives. “Good” parenting simply can’t rescue the genetically predisposed from delinquency, and neither can “bad” parenting (provided it’s not too extremely so) hold back the genetically gifted. These should serve as final nails in the coffin for the case for the efficacy of parenting. There is simply no more to debate.

In my post More Maps of the American Nations, I have made substantial additions. I have added local-level breakdowns for support for same-sex marriage, abortion, and gun ownership. As well, I break down national suicide rates by county by race.

Go there for more on this matter.

Additionally, while this has not been added to any posts, I wanted to comment on another recent find. This one is on the topic of obesity. I recently found a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of diets for the intent of weight loss. With a combined N > 60,000 and a study duration of 2.5 – 10 years, it found that diet was completely ineffective for weight loss. The subjects showed no aggregate permanent weight loss at the end of the study period. It also showed that there was no effective improvement in health outcomes nor were there fewer deaths during the study period for those in the treatment groups. Diets don’t work!

In reporting this, one objection that I’ve encountered is that the diets used in the study were traditional low-fat or low-calorie types, and not the purportedly superior “low-carb” diets. However, this has also been studied. A meta-analysis of RCTs found that low-carb diets don’t work much better:

Combined N: 712
Duration: 1-2 years
Total average weight lost with low-carb diets at study end: 8 lbs!

Obesity remains impossible to effectively treat without surgical intervention. Unfortunately, this matter is clouded by wishful thinking and flat out irrational thought. People recount success stories – indeed, there are studies tabulating those that have successful lost weight and kept it off. However, the belies the enormous amount of selection bias involved in collecting these “success” stories. Proponents of the practical feasibility of long-term weight loss collect all the hits and discount the orders of magnitude greater number of misses. It’s often easy to get success if one cherry-picks enough. But so many are simply unable to see that.

As for that matter of surgical intervention: one can successfully treat obesity on a long-term basis with bariatric surgery. One might imagine that this speaks to the intrinsic danger of excess body weight. However, a meta-analysis of clinical trials – NOT randomized – found questionable results on that front. Improvements in health and lifespan were small and often not significant. Indeed there was a consistent pattern: the larger studies produced weaker results, indicating that publication bias is likely in play. This is in addition to the fact that the selection for treatment was not random. There are many criteria doctors place on who receives bariatric surgery, and it’s almost a given that the decisions to perform surgery were biased to their healthier patients.

The causes and nature of obesity remain a mystery, but we won’t make much progress if we stick to invalidated models, which foolishly stress blame and “personal responsibility.”

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23 Comments

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  1. Anonymous / Jun 10 2014 7:44 AM

    How does a largely genetic component of criminality explain the generalised fall in crime across the western world since the 80s? Or indeed the increase before then since the 50s?

  2. Sisyphean / Jun 10 2014 10:17 AM

    Diets can work for individuals, they just don’t work on average. That’s an important distinction. if you are the rare individual who has thin parents and was always thin, but then gained weight when you went to Univ or got married, then you could possibly take it off and keep it off. You’d just be returning to your natural fitness level. However if your parents are fat and you’ve always been fat, and you always seem to fall off the wagon over and over again, well, I’m sorry. I am of the former. I’m short for a guy and at one time I weighed almost 250, but now I’m 170 and built (and have been for 4 years now) but I would never say that ‘anyone’ can get my results.

    • JayMan / Jun 10 2014 10:19 AM

      @Sisyphean:

      Perfectly said!

  3. thisismypipi / Jun 10 2014 12:26 PM

    Does it take into account the time parents spend with kids?

    Parents don’t spend nearly as much time with their kids as almost everything else does though. I’m pretty sure the TV and computer spent way more time with me than my parents. Heck even my dogs did.

    • JayMan / Jun 10 2014 12:33 PM

      @thisismypipi:

      The great strength of behavioral genetic methods is that it captures the potential effects that ALL variation in parenting behavior exhibited by sample would have. Since “time parents spend with kids” varies from one set of parents to the next, then yes, it does account for this would be your answer.

  4. thisismypipi / Jun 10 2014 12:55 PM

    @ Jayman:

    Proof?

    • JayMan / Jun 10 2014 1:48 PM

      @thisismypipi:

      Think of the twin registry studies. Many of these have samples in the tens of thousands. You get all kinds of parents (married, divorced, re-married, single, etc.). The lasting impact of this variation on behavioral traits is zero. See the referenced posts for an explanation of the process. On the flip side, adoption studies provide proof that less genetically endowed children don’t really do any better with more upper middle class parenting. Parenting simply couldn’t have a lasting effect.

      Everything you need to know is in the referenced posts. Feel free to check them out, and if you have any questions, let me know.

  5. FoolishReporter / Jun 10 2014 1:14 PM

    JayMan has brought me around on the parenting thing. In thinking of some criminal cases in my area (one directly affecting me, in which the perpetrator was said to “be a good kid who came from a good home” but ultimately murdered my friend over his cell phone) the affinity towards criminal, and criminally violent behavior, seems to be unavoidable and not very much affected by environment. Reality persists, however much we would like it to otherwise not.

    • thisismypipi / Jun 10 2014 1:22 PM

      You sure it was over just the cell phone, what was in that cell phone?

    • Sisyphean / Jun 11 2014 12:08 PM

      I struggle internalizing it myself. We’re told our entire lives how important upbringing is for children. The left thinks all children start predisposed to goodness and if only we gave them all loving accepting homes there would be no violence where the right tends to prefer hard boundaries and punishment for bad deeds as forcing children onto the ‘straight and narrow’ path, but both over estimate the control environment has on outcome, really everyone does.

      I know a woman who had a very hard childhood with a controlling highly neurotic mother. She struggles with anxiety, control issues, and neuroticism herself but blames her mother’s parenting for these problems. Then she went on to have children with multiple borderline psychopaths (highly aggressive low IQ men) and she expects to parent those children with so much love that they’ll all grow up to be perfectly happy angels. It is precisely the belief in the power of parenting that allowed her to so closely follow in her mother’s footsteps while thinking she was doing the exact opposite. Maybe the belief is adaptive in that way, I don’t know.

    • FoolishReporter / Jun 11 2014 12:13 PM

      Yes. Thinking about myself in relation to my parents has also brought me around a bit on the idea. Both of my parents were essentially wallflowers who never got in trouble etc. Me? A rabble rousing trouble maker for years now. 😉

  6. FoolishReporter / Jun 10 2014 1:24 PM

    Nothing was in the cell phone. It was a chance encounter on the streets of Seattle. In fact, his murderer expressed disappointment that my friend’s phone was “so old”.

    • thisismypipi / Jun 10 2014 1:28 PM

      Still does not mean it was just over the cell phone. A lot of stuff can happen from the door of “said” good home to streets of Seattle. A lot of thoughts and memories, millions of things actually.

      Also I am not trying to take any blame away from anything. Sorry for your loss.

    • FoolishReporter / Jun 10 2014 1:31 PM

      Yes, I’m reminded of a different Seattle youth who was one of three who curb stomped a popular street performer to death (served in juvenile detention until he turned 18) and was the prime suspect in a shooting murder about a year after he was let out. Now, if we want to discuss environment, that young man, (and actually one of his accomplices as well) learned that killing someone resulted in very little punishment, all things considered.

      Thank you for your condolences though.

  7. Anthony / Jun 12 2014 12:35 PM

    So – obesity is hard to “treat”. Obesity rates in the U.S. have been rising over the past few decades, faster than any changes in the genetics could account for (and we’re seeing increases in all racial groups, so it’s not changing demographics). How has the environment changed? Is it just the lower relative cost of food, particularly carbs? Is it an ingredient more common in processed foods? Is it a pathogen? Are there any good ways to exclude any of those possibilities?

    • JayMan / Jun 12 2014 12:38 PM

      @Anthony:

      We don’t know. Indeed, you’ve distilled the problem. At present, all of those hypotheses are still on the table.

    • Ed the Department Head / Jun 13 2014 10:22 AM

      I found this article on being overweight or obese interesting:
      http://www.lewrockwell.com/2014/06/joseph-mercola/great-news-about-a-major-cause-of-cancer/
      It shows that increases in weight are not just happening in the First World.

      While I do not rule out something that is being placed in the food by big business, I suspect the explanation is far simpler. I took an undergraduate course in Old English in college and was amazed/disturbed by the amount of words related to starvation that the prof showed us. Likewise, I once read online a man who was an old Sicilian translated to ‘when the food gets scarce, the fat people get skinny and the skinny people die.’ A reviewer of Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin at Amazon wrote about how she tried hard to lose weight but couldn’t do so and her doctor told her she was built to survive a (pre-modern) famine.

      I bring this up because famine was very common through most of the world throughout most of prehistory and history into the 20th century. It makes far more sense to me, using Occam’s Razor, that many people have propensity to put on and keep serious weight which was a positive trait in an era of food scarcity but became a detriment (particularly for one’s socio-sexual standing and opportunity) in an age of food abundance. The genes for expressing fat people were always there but lack of the amounts of food such people’s body’s crave coupled with pre-modern health problems (parasites and the affects of being seriously sick before antibiotics) and smoking keeping endomorphic peoples’ weight in check. I remember in the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh use to make fun of Congressman Richard Gephardt for his strange factually void claims that poor people were going to bed very hungry in America. This wasn’t true in the 1990s but I suspect it was true of a great many poor people in the 1890s and ever more so the 1790s.

      I think the diet and exercise industries have been selling the public a false narrative and the fat people snake oil in order to make great profit. Americans want to believe this narrative because they want to believe we can be anything that we want to be (when we can’t) and the fat shamers have an emotional response to how ugly they find the overweight and desperately wish that diet and exercise could cure the presence of so many unattractive people. Gina Kolata’s book covers the failure of the diet and exercise industries to successfully treat being overweight and also highlights various experiments that pointed toward biology instead of willpower being the cause of people being overweight. (The experiment that I found most notable was during World War II when naturally thin American ectomorphs were stuffed fat with food and naturally fat American men were starved and both groups returned to their original shapes pretty quick once the stuffing/starving ended.)

    • JayMan / Jun 13 2014 10:49 AM

      @Ed:

      This is the “thrifty genes” hypothesis. The key problem with that is if that were the case, why aren’t we all fat? Such genes should have increased to fixation, yes?

    • Ed the Department Head / Jun 13 2014 10:56 AM

      Sorry, I screwed up part of my comment. I was telling about a man online years ago who translated an old Sicilian proverb as ‘when the food gets scarce, the fat people get skinny and the skinny people die.’

    • Ed the Department Head / Jun 14 2014 6:17 PM

      Your criticism is of the “thrifty genes” hypothesis is valid Jayman. I don’t really have an answer. Could it be that the hypothesized “efficient fat storage” gene(s) is dominant and genes for naturally thinner people are recessive? If this turns out to be the case than naturally thinner people could reemerge after famines in eras of relative plenty.

    • Dipitty Do / Jun 22 2014 7:26 AM

      Jay, perhaps not all areas of the world were subject to equal levels of starvation. For example, the founding populations of many Polynesian islands were probably the people who were lucky enough to survive long oceanic voyages. Thin folks may not have made it. But elsewhere in the world, food may have been more abundant. Certainly if one is descended from the British upper class, food probably wasn’t that much of an issue for your ancestors. If you’re descended from lower-class Irish, food was much more of an issue. Additionally, carrying excess fat probably has its downsides, (people in hot climates may want less fat than people in cold climates, for example), so it’s not an automatic win to be fatter.

  8. Dipitty Do / Jun 22 2014 7:11 AM

    Honestly, I think most of the point of parenting is for the Right Now–eg, Your kid is climbing on the stove. What do you do? My response to kid on the stove probably won’t have an effect on his adult risk-taking behavior, but it may have an effect on his likelihood of climbing on the stove tomorrow, which is still pretty important. And the overall nature of my parenting may have a long-term effect on which nursing home I end up in. 😛

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